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A Holiday Truce: A Holocaust Survivor Speaks Out

An Interview with Laura Hillman, and Commentary

by Casey Luskin

Book Cover: I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree : A Memoir of a Schindler's List Survivor by Laura Hillman
Pictured above is the cover of I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler's List Survivor by Laura Hillman, to be released by Simon & Schuster in April, 2005.
The holiday season is special because of its uncommon historic ability to bring together adversaries in a recognition that we all share a common humanity. World War I is famous for the "Christmas Truce of 1914," where the British and German armies put down their guns for one day, as they played a game of football together and enjoyed Christmas cheer. In my personal family, I have witnessed that the holiday season is always a time when people of different (or no) faiths can unify in thankfulness for our blessings. Unfortunately, this recent holiday season has seen a dangerous and unfortunate comparison made in this debate.

As the debate over intelligent design and Darwinian evolution has become increasingly publicized, some have unfortunately resorted to rhetoric which stirs hateful passions rather than seeking to cooperatively solve problems by focusing on evidence. This tactic has come in the form of broad attacks, such as December, 2004 PandasThumb threads discussing whether or not skeptics of Darwinian evolution (most specifically, the tactics they use) should be compared to “Holocaust deniers” (, It has also manifested as specified attacks, such as when one ID proponent was recently called "dishonest" and specifically likened to a “Holocaust denier” on stage by a lawyer from the ACLU on a Legal Education panel for lawyers. (See also a 1/5/05 news article where a different ACLU lawyer makes the same comparison of teaching ID to teaching the Holocaust did not happen.) Two more distant examples include a comparison made by Michael Shermer, in Scientific American in February, 2002 (“The Gradual Illumination of the Mind” and a 2003 article by Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch of the NCSE in TREE (“Evolution: What’s wrong with 'teaching the controversy,'” 18(10):499-502, Oct 2003) where they each attempt to legitimize comparisons between creationists and Holocaust deniers. Finally, Wired Magazine even published a comment by Lawrence Krauss making comparisons of being skeptical of evolution to denying the Holocaust in its October 2004 editorial about intelligent design.

Though each of these examples may not have specifically intended to imply that ID proponents are racists or evil, and some of them simply compared teaching evidence against evolution to teaching that the Holocaust never happened, it is not the nature or qualifications in the comparisons that matter, but the fact that any comparison was made in the very first place. Any form of comparison between what skeptics of evolution believe, do, advocate, or are and the specific actions, nature, goals, and beliefs of such a culturally dangerous (and widely hated) group as Holocaust deniers is inappropriate and bad for this debate. Those who don't like what skeptics of evolution are doing should find a different object of comparison--one which does not liken skeptics of evolution in any way to a group like Holocaust deniers. The Holocaust should be considered too personal and horrifying an issue to be dragged into this debate.

Ed Brayton has done a very good job of documenting how unfortunately some ID proponents have also invoked the comparisons to Nazis in their discussions in an inappropriate manner. I happily provide this link to his blog where he has documented that some ID proponents have also unfortunately brought the Holocaust and Nazism into this debate. (See also this page where Ed kindly retracts his accusations towards me.) I would also like to thank him for joining with me in calling for people on all sides of this debate to universally stop invoking the Holocaust in this debate. Also, it was brought to my attention that creation scientist Jonathan Sarfati recently used Holocaust imagery in an article. While Sarfati's article mostly discusses the historical fact of Nazi reliance upon some of Darwin's ideas, he does seem to unfortunately imply that the Nazi Holocaust might be repeated if evolution is taught in schools.

The Holocaust is perhaps the most evil event to take place in human history. It is the massive attempt to exterminate an entire ethnic group, the Jews. History also records that many non-Jews, including Christians, gypsies, homosexuals, and just about anyone caught opposing Hitler’s regime also faced death in the concentration camps. The Holocaust thus represents not just a horrific example of attempted genocide, but also an attempt to stifle freedom of thought through brutality. This holiday season provides an occasion for all of us in this debate to reflect upon difficult lessons learned from history and recognize that this is an event which should not be tossed around lightly in this debate.

One of our goals at the IDEA Center is to make people "aware" of issues in this debate. To help promote awareness about the importance of the Holocaust and how it should be not be treated lightly, the IDEA Center offers this interview with a distinguished guest, a Holocaust Survivor and long-time friend of Casey Luskin, Ms. Laura Hillman.

An Interview with Holocaust survivor Laura Hillman:
Casey:  Thank you so much for your willingness to participate in this interview. To familiarize our readers with who you are, could you please briefly tell us about your story and your personal connection to the Holocaust?
Ms. Hillman:  I’m a holocaust survivor. That means I survived eight concentration camps including Auschwitz Berkenau. My entire family of 63 people were killed, that includes my parents, my brothers, aunts, and uncles. I was born in Germany. My father fought in the First World War for Germany. He received the iron cross for bravery and was severely wounded. In 1942 they killed him in Buchenwald, an infamous concentration camp.

Casey:  For those who haven’t seen the movie Schindler’s List, who were the Schindler Jews?
Ms. Hillman:  Oscar Schindler was an industrialist and he came to Poland and took over a factory from the Jews. These people worked so hard for him and made him a wealthy man. He was 37 at the time and had never succeeded before. When he saw how these Jews were mistreated in the concentration camp called Plaszow he decided to start a labor camp in Brinnlitz. Although he was a Nazi party member, he bribed all the officials with whatever he could, with money that came from the Jews and he was successful to take 1100 people out of this infamous concentration camp and bring them to Brinnlitz, saving their lives. I was one of those. If not for that, I would not be talking to you now.

Casey:  Why is the Holocaust important for us to understand today?
Ms. Hillman:  It is important so that it may never never happen again. Because something like this is unheard of in history, where human beings by the millions were put in gas chambers and then burned in crematories. Go back in history, to the Romans, to the Byzantine times, and never in history has an ethnicity been killed in such a way. This didn’t come from people that were uneducated, but from a country that had scientists, poets, and writers--highly intelligent people. And that was the danger—it didn’t come from a 3rd world country, it came from a country that was very civilized. We must understand it so it never ever happens again. That’s why I lecture in schools all the time and that’s why I wrote the book.

Casey:  Are there people out there who actually deny the Holocaust--and if so, what do you think causes people to do such a thing?
Ms. Hillman:  The people who deny the Holocaust are often-times people on the fringe of society. Others want to make thsmelves important—they have not had their voices heard anywhere in life, and so by having this view they can make themselves important. They are in the minority—there are only a handful of such people and so I dismiss them.

Casey:  Recently, some people have compared those who have scientific doubts about Darwinian evolution to Holocaust deniers. From your perspective as a Holocaust survivor, do you feel such remarks should be made, and how do you think recipients of such accusations should respond?
Ms. Hillman:  What has one thing to do with another? I don't see the connection. I don’t close my eyes or ears to evolution, but I don’t think I could be swayed to believe in it. I’m too religious.

Casey:  Do you feel that the Holocaust should be tossed around lightly in scientific debates?
Ms. Hillman:  It is a travesty to do it. To compare [having doubts about evolution] with [doubting] the six million Jewish people who lost their lives, including 1,500,000 children, it is a travesty to toss the Holocaust around lightly in scientific debates. It’s a bad analogy. Definitely a bad analogy.

Casey:  Intelligent design theory is known to attract the interest of scholars from a variety of different faiths, including Jewish scholars. What does it mean when someone compares a group known to contain many Jews to those who are “Holocaust deniers?”
Ms. Hillman:  I’ve never heard of anyone calling a group which includes Jews Holocaust deniers. Once when speaking in a school a skinhead said to me that I had no proof of the Holocaust. I said to him, when you bring back my brothers and my parents, then you have proof. But until that time, I am living proof of the Holocaust. And he walked out of a crowded room of a few hundred people.

Casey:  On a lighter note, can you tell us a little about your forthcoming book and book tour?
Ms. Hillman:  The book will be released April 24, 2005. It’s in the juvenile division of Simon and Schuster, and it’s for readers 13 and older. But since then it has been marketed as a crossover book for adults as well. Simon and Schuster is very excited about it. I will be going on tour, probably starting in late April. I’m excited because I will leave this book behind, and anyone who wants to deny the Holocaust can read my book, because I was a young girl who was there.

Casey:  If there is any take-home message you have for our readers, how would you have them view about the importance of the Holocaust and how it should be treated in scientific debates?
Ms. Hillman:  I don’t think that the Holocaust belongs in scientific debates. Maybe I am oversimplifying it, but I don’t see the connection. It’s too gruesome an event – how does that come into a debate over the theory of evolution? What has one thing to do with another. It’s an unfair comparison and it doesn’t belong in the debate. I feel very strongly about the fact that the Holocaust does not belong in these scientific debates.
If people have further questions, Ms. Hillman has offered to permit the posting of her e-mail address where she can be contacted personally at

To reiterate, Ms. Hillman is the forthcoming author of I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree to be released by Simon & Schuster in April, 2005. Before this interview, Ms. Hillman was told exactly why we were interested in posting her conversation, and she was also told about the nature of the scientific viewpoints of those in this debate, and also about the context in which the comparisons to "Holocaust deniers" have been made. She had the opportunity to read this entire page before it was posted on the IDEA Center website and approves of the use of her interview for the purpose of promoting awareness about the reality of the Holocaust and encouraging people not to treat this issue lightly.

The IDEA Center would like to acknowledge that posting of Ms. Hillman's interview is in no way intended to imply that she endorses (or does not endorse) intelligent design theory or the activities of the IDEA Center in general. In fact, this article has nothing to do with the validity of intelligent design theory, and our only hope in posting this article is that it will encourage people on all sides of this debate to "keep hate out of the debate" and focus on friendly, good-natured discussions of evidence.

Some Afterthoughts and Methodological Considerations
Some of my fellow IDEA Center staff members advised that no response on this matter was necessary because reasonable people would see comparisons between skeptics of Darwinian evolution and Holocaust deniers as completely inappropriate. We chose to post this article because we see such accusations as a dangerous corner which has been turned in this debate—-not only because it mires the debate in more hateful comparisons which distract from discussions of the evidence, but also because it denigrates important lessons all humanity has learned from the most horrifying event in the human history.

As an eyewitness to the Holocaust, Ms. Hillman herself is proof that there is no evidentiary substitute for those who have personally witnessed a historical event. The claim that all life is the result of blind, purposeless natural processes is also a claim about history. But no human being was alive to witness such events, and thus we must rely upon circumstantial evidence to interpret such events. There are many reasonable interpretations for the data from the scientific record of the past, one of which is that blind, purposeless processes (such as Darwinian evolution) are not largely responsible for the origin and development of all life. Meyer and Hartwig explain this point clearly in their teacher’s note at the end of the pro-intelligent-design textbook Of Pandas and People: “Many people assert that evolution in this second sense [descent with modification] is a fact, just as gravity is a fact. But the two situations are hardly analogous. The fact of gravity can be verified simply by dropping a pencil—an experiment anyone can perform. Common ancestry, however, cannot be directly verified by such an experiment. We can no more “see” evolution in the fossil record than paleontologists of Darwin’s day could “see” creation events. The best we can do is infer what might have happened in the past by piecing together circumstantial evidence from many different fields.


The problem with this kind of historical detective work, however, is that it seldom produces a conclusion that forecloses other alternatives. As philosopher of biology Elliot Sober points out, there may be any number of plausible explanations—or "past histories"—that can account for the same evidence. Sober’s observation recalls the insightful warning of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” said Holmes. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing but if you shift your point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something different."


[O]nly in the most trivial sense—change over time—can evolution be considered a fact. Far from being a legitimate reason for avoiding alternative views, the alleged “fact of evolution” underscores precisely why a book like Pandas is so necessary. If students are to achieve true scientific literacy, they must learn to distinguish fact from supposition. A curriculum that blurs this distinction serves neither the students nor society”
(A Note to Teachers, Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed. pg. 155, 157).
It is impossible for even the most vile racist to argue against eyewitnesses like Laura Hillman. However, when dealing with the prehistoric subject of origins, we are all forced to deal with circumstantial evidence that can be interpreted many ways. Comparing skeptics of Darwinian evolution to Holocaust deniers is not only methodologically inappropriate, because it is like comparing apples and oranges, but it threatens to tarnish this debate with an ugly accusation that ought to be left out.

Bringing the Holocaust into this debate is not only methodologically inappropriate, it is morally wrong, ugly, and dangerous to the debate as a whole. We post this article to help people understand not just the nature of historical evidence, but how the importance of the Holocaust mandates that it not be treated lightly nor used to further increase hate. For those who revere the painful lessons of history and honor those whose lives, families, and entire people-groups were nearly or completely lost in the Holocaust, we plea to those on all sides of this debate that the Holocaust should not be hijacked to for the purpose of leveling hateful comparisons against the other side.

The tragic story of the Holocaust is the inflammation of deeply-rooted human fears against cultural scapegoats until even the educated citizenry were capable of supporting genocidal madness. Today, our educated citizenry fears those who continue to instill hatred because of ignorance. To all of us, the “Holocaust denier” represents the culmination of how ignorance and hate can threaten progress and peace in our civilization. Those who lightly toss about the term “Holocaust denier” appear to inflame a similar unjust hatred against a modern-day scapegoat for intellectuals: skeptics of Darwinian evolution. It is imperative that we all remember the lesson of the Holocaust, and do not exploit the very teacher itself to inflame same sort of discriminatory hate it testifies against from the pages of very recent history.

Hopefully most Darwinists and most ID-proponents alike can agree that it is inappropriate to drag the Holocaust, and insults like “Holocaust denier” into this debate. For those willing, perhaps over agreement upon this one matter, a holiday truce among Darwinists and ID-proponents is indeed possible.

Addendum (added 1/6/05)

There is very little that needs to be said in response how some people on the internet are responding to this article. The fact that some people are actually defending the tactic of making comparisons to Holocaust deniers completely speaks for itself, and so little response is necessary. Additionally, I applaud those from all sides who have joined in this truce to agree that such comparisons do not belong in this debate.

Some have blown my claims out of proportion when my simple claim is merely this: it's inappropriate to use comparisons to Holocaust deniers no matter what the issue or the facts are. Like Laura Hillman said "It’s a bad analogy. Definitely a bad analogy." Regardless of one's viewpoint, if one wants to make a comparison to make a point, find a different one than comparisons to Holocaust deniers. Apparently the Anti-Defamation League would probably agree with me that it is inappropriate to use comparisons to Holocaust deniers in political debates, as ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote: "[Y]our analogy to those who deny the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews and millions of others is insensitive and painful. Usage of Holocaust imagery to score political points at any time is unacceptable." Foxman's comment was made in regards to some issue that came up during the last Presidential election. However, my point here is identical to that of ADL Director Abraham Foxman. Those who disagree with my point here might also want to consider taking a public stand against Mr. Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League.

Addendum (added 2/1/05):

Ed Brayton has done a very good job of documenting how unfortunately some ID proponents have also invoked the comparisons to Nazis in their discussions in an inappropriate manner. I happily provide this link to his blog where he has documented that some ID proponents have also unfortunately brought the Holocaust and Nazism into this debate. (See also this page where Ed kindly retracts his accusations towards me.) I would also like to thank him for joining with me in calling for people on all sides of this debate to universally stop invoking the Holocaust in this debate.

Addendum (added 9/3/05):

In a recent editorial in the Guardian, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins have invoked the "Holocaust denier" comparison to those who advocate intelligent design: Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened? (emphasis added,,13026,1559743,00.html)